Eating Myself by Candida Crewe

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Eating Myself by Candida Crewe

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: A memoir of a food-obsessed life, this book delves deeper to try to discover the triggers behind the author's disturbing obsession with what passes her lips.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 256 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747585626

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As a nation, we seem to have become obsessed with body size and food. Last week I saw magazines with cover stories on both the size 0 'epidemic' and the alarming trend towards obesity in children of primary school age. At the same time, the likes of Gillian McKeith and Jamie Oliver are talking to us about food, telling us what we should and shouldn't be eating to remain healthy, while diets from Atkins to Low GI to Weight Watchers remain a thriving industry. Eating Myself is a book which jumps right into the middle of these topics with a look at one particular writer's own bizarre relationship with diets and food.

I thought this book was going to be solely about food: the preparation, the eating, the purging. As topics go, that sounded reasonable to me though I know some readers can imagine nothing worse than a book in this field. I was expecting various unhealthy hints and tips about how to lose weight and the tricks food-obsessives use to conceal their behaviour. I was expecting to be educated on both under-eating and over-eating, and, more interestingly, to discover the type of person who can swing from one extreme to the other when most people seem to get stuck at one end of the spectrum. I was expecting a book that, though stemming from the author's personal experience, would reach wider into the outside world and show a broader picture of the eating habits of a nation. While I got these things to some extent, this book wasn't quite what I imagined.

Candida Crewe had a childhood that included a neurotic mother, an absent father, a boarding school education... lots of the stereotypical triggers for a dysfunctional life, or at the very least a dysfunctional phase. This book is as much a memoir of those formative years as it is a food diary. One brief mention of a meal or of a dish can lead to pages of reminiscing about events in childhood than remain connected in the author's mind but which, to the reader, don't seem to have all that much to do with food. That's what I meant when I said this book wasn't quite what I was expecting: there is a great deal to do with food and eating mentioned, certainly, but the book is also awash with episodes and memories quite unrelated to this topic. And, when food is mentioned, it is in a very personal way, with not much time spent on the wider implications for society of people who obsess as Crewe does. It's almost as if she were wanting to say "I'm everso weird, I'm utterly messed up when it comes to food, there's no-one else quite like me, listen while I tell you about it in minute detail... " I found it interesting that press praise for the book printed on the back cover includes lines such as "Thank God it's not just me" and "packed with acute observations about the wobbly underbelly of female anxiety". I like to obsess about strange eating habits as much as the next girl, but I didn't really feel I identified with the voice in this book, nor did I feel like I should be more concerned about how I look or what I eat. If anything, my overwhelming thought was that I was supremely glad that, according to this book, I have a healthy relationship with food and don't spend all day obsessing about what I should not have eaten earlier, or should be eating later.

When I wasn't being irritated by the completely over the top neuroses being documented, I did quite enjoy the book for short spurts of a time. Crewe writes wryly and with neat observations, and while I was not laughing and crying, as other reviewers claim to have been, I did enjoy the irony and wittiness of the text. Her examination of the stem of her problems is interesting and unusual at times, though it does also include the boring and common "I lost weight to make men like me" and "Beauty is thin, thin is beauty" nuggets. I also enjoyed the food descriptions - the baguettes and cheese, the chocolate tortes, the hot toast slathered with peanut butter. While this book wouldn't come close to The Gypsy Tearoom or The Food of Love in this respect, the descriptions were nice because they were for solid, simple, tasty food rather than gourmet meals. If just seemed such a waste that half of it would be thrown away later, or be ingested only to be regretted and possibly vomited up shortly afterwards.

The book may well have been a therapeutic one to write, but it is less so to read, because unless you have exactly the same issues and thought processes as the author, it is hard to identify completely with the sentiments being expressed. At times, I wanted to grab her by the shoulders, give her a good shake and tell her that shifting pounds comes down to nothing more complicated than eating less and moving more. At times I felt very glad that my mind is not messed up in this way when it comes to food. At times I mourned for the lost chocolate and cream cakes, discarded in a manner that can only be described as criminal. If you're a nicer person than me, you might feel sorry for the author as she describes her life being controlled by such an unnatural preoccupation with food. If you're really nice, though, and you like all those battered, abused children memoirs (A Child Called It, Don't Tell Mummy) you might end up wanting to tell Crewe to get a grip, grow up and deal with an issue which seems nothing in the grand scheme of things (she's a half-hearted bulimic for example - she doesn't really manage the throwing up part - so it's hard to sympathise as you might with someone clearly in the grips of a full blown eating disorder). But, if you're like me, you may end up simply pitying a woman who cannot seem to have her cake and eat it, and feeling everso sorry for all those unloved, unwanted chocolate bars in her life.

My thanks to the publishers for sending the Bookbag a copy of this book.

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Claire said:

I'm rather disappointed to read that this doesn't hit the subject head on. Having helped a sufferer of anorexia through the terrible condition I would love to find a text that really works to explain a little of what goes on. Maybe this is one that would actually work better as a work of fiction rather than as a biographical work?